Sixteen years after a tragic avalanche in which they were buried alive, the bodies of noted mountain climber Alex Lowe and his cameraman, David Bridges, have finally been found. Lowe, 40 at the time of his death, and Bridges, 29, were making an expedition on October 5, 1999, to climb Shishapangma in Tibet when the avalanche occurred.
A third climber, Conrad Anker, was injured in the avalanche, suffering broken ribs and a head gash, but was able to make it to safety. Anker, who was also Lowe’s best friend and a regular climbing partner, later married Lowe’s widow. Rescuers searched for the climbers for roughly 20 hours before they gave up.
The remains were found on Wednesday.
Lowe, Bridges, and Anker had planned to climb the mountain and then ski down. They were at about 19,000 feet on the south face when a slab of snow broke off about 6,000 feet above them. Lowe and Bridges ran left but were trapped under the massive burden of snow. Anker ran to the right.
According to the Daily Mail, Lowe’s widow issued a statement that two climbers, David Goettler of Germany and Ueli Steck of Switzerland, found the bodies in a partially melting glacier. They described the clothing on the bodies and the backpacks that they were wearing to Anker, and he identified them on that basis. Goettler and Steck said that the bodies were encased in blue ice. Although he hasn’t seen photos of the bodies and no DNA tests have yet been run, Anker remains resolute that the bodies are those of his friends.
“They were close to each other. Blue and red North Face backpacks. Yellow Koflach boots. It was all that gear from that time period. They were pretty much the only two climbers who were there.”
Lowe, Bridges, and Anker were hoping to make history by being the first American expedition to ski an 8,000-meter peak, reports Outside Online. They were part of a nine-man party that day. The other six members of the party were able to avoid the avalanche, and, along with Anker, who was still able to walk, spent the next two days searching for Lowe and Bridges without success.
Anker and his wife, Jenni Lowe-Anker, now reside in Bozeman, Montana. He adopted Lowe’s children after marrying Jenni. They also set up a foundation in Alex’s honor, the Alex Lowe Charitable Foundation. The couple were in Nepal when they received the news of the discovery.
At the time of his death, Lowe was widely considered to be the greatest mountain climber in the world. He was nicknamed Lungs with Legs due to his stamina and strength.
Lowe’s cameraman, David Bridges, an Aspen, Colorado, native, was an experienced high-altitude climber and cinematographer. He also was a two-time United States paragliding champion.
CBS News writes that Jenni Lowe-Anker, Lowe’s widow, said that she did not expect the bodies to be found in her lifetime, but expressed her feelings that she was glad to finally have some closure.
“Alex and David vanished, were captured and frozen in time. Sixteen years of life has been lived and now they are found. We are thankful.”
Conrad Anker also said that the discovery brought him relief and that he too was happy to have closure.
The Ankers and their sons plan to travel to Tibet over the summer and hold a memorial ceremony.
Jenni is not looking forward to the trip.
“It’s never something you look forward to. To see the body of somebody you loved and cared about. But there is a sense that we can put him to rest, and he’s not just disappeared now.”
The Alex Lowe Charitable Foundation website speaks respectfully of Lowe’s memory.
“[Alex] was blessed with many unique gifts including the ability to climb the world’s most challenging peaks, and the capability to connect with, and love, the people he met in some of the most remote areas of the world.”
Outside Online counts the time as exactly 16 years, six months, and 22 days since the climbers disappeared under the snow.
Shishapangma is the 14th highest mountain in the world and rises 26,291 feet high.
[Image via Twitter]